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Heartburn: Causes, Symptoms & Medication


A lot of people love enjoying big meals, however, this and certain foods may cause them to experience a condition known as heartburn. 

Just behind your breastbone, a burning pain in your chest is known as heartburn. The pain is often worse when lying down or bending over, in the evening or after eating. Heartburn occurs often and is not a cause for concern. Most people can manage the discomfort of heartburn on their own with nonprescription medications and lifestyle changes. 

Heartburn that interferes with your daily routine or is more frequent might be a symptom of a more serious condition that requires medical care. If you are especially worried it could be a heart attack, seek emergency medical attention.

What is Heartburn?

Heartburn is a burning sensation behind your breastbone in your chest. It occurs when stomach acid travels back up your oesophagus (the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach). You might also experience a bitter taste in your mouth or throat. The symptoms of heartburn might get worse when you are lying down or after you eat.

In general, home remedies for treating heartburn problems are effective. If frequent heartburn makes it difficult to swallow or eat, however, your symptoms might be a sign of a more serious medical condition. 

What are the Symptoms of Heartburn?

Heartburn symptoms can range from minor discomfort to excruciating anguish. The most common symptom of heartburn is a burning feeling in your throat and chest.

Heartburn feels like a burning or uncomfortable pain in the middle of your chest. You might also experience:

  • hoarseness or coughing  
  • a sour, acidic, or bitter aftertaste
  • worsening pain after bending over or lying down
  • difficulty swallowing
  • pain or pressure behind your breastbone
  • a burning sensation in your throat

Heartburn can affect people differently. Heartburn symptoms typically start soon after eating and linger for a few minutes to many hours, or even longer.

The underlying reason will determine how long you will have symptoms. It also depends on what you do at the first sign of symptoms. For instance, heartburn symptoms may persist as your body digests the triggering food. Other times, discomfort goes away if you get up after eating rather than lying down.

If you take prescription medications or antacids as part of a treatment plan, you might experience fewer or shorter-duration heartburn symptoms.

You Can Also Read: Foods to avoid to prevent acid reflux (GERD)

What are the Causes of Heartburn?

Heartburn usually occurs when contents from the stomach back up into the oesophagus. The oesophagus is a tube that carries fluids and food from the mouth into the stomach.

Your oesophagus connects to your stomach at a juncture known as the lower oesophagal sphincter. If the lower oesophagal sphincter is functioning properly, it closes when food leaves the oesophagus and enters the stomach.

In some people, the lower oesophagal sphincter becomes weakened or does not function properly. This leads to contents from the stomach leaking back into the oesophagus. Stomach acids can irritate the oesophagus and cause symptoms of heartburn. This condition is known as reflux.

Certain conditions and other factors might make it more likely for you to experience heartburn. Risk factors include:

  • Taking certain medications – Some medications, sedatives and blood pressure medications can increase your risk of heartburn. 
  • Having obesity or being overweight – Obesity is a major contributing risk factor to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), with regurgitation and heartburn being the usual way this condition manifests. 
  • Smoking – Smoking is weakly associated with an increased chance of developing GERD. It is worth noting because people who decreased or quit tobacco smoking were 3 times more likely to have a reduction of heartburn.
  • Pregnancy – Pregnancy frequently causes heartburn, especially in the third trimester.
  • Hiatal hernia – A hiatal hernia occurs when the upper part of your stomach penetrates through the diaphragm, typically by way of a tear or weakness.

If you have heartburn, you might find that certain drinks and foods can trigger your symptoms. These might include:

  • alcohol
  • spicy foods
  • high-fat foods
  • fried foods
  • peppermint
  • tomatoes and tomato-based products
  • citrus fruits
  • chocolate
  • carbonated drinks

Additional factors that may cause heartburn include:

  • wearing tight clothes
  • lying down immediately after eating
  • eating a large meal

What are the Complications Associated With Heartburn?

Heartburn that occurs sometimes seldom requires medical attention. However, frequent heartburn might be a symptom of GERD. This condition might require a cure with prescription medication or surgery. 

If left untreated, GERD might lead to additional health problems, like an inflammation of the oesophagus (called esophagitis), or Barrett’s oesophagus. Barrett’s oesophagus causes changes in the lining of the oesophagus that can increase your risk of oesophagal cancer. 

Long-term heartburn could reduce your quality of life. See your doctor to determine a course of treatment if you find it difficult to carry on your daily life or are severely limited in your activities due to heartburn.

You Can Also Read: Gas Problem – Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

What is the Treatment for Heartburn?

If your heartburn is not the symptom of an underlying condition, you should be able to successfully treat it with OTC (over-the-counter) medications. 

You might also find relief from the following lifestyle changes:

  • Wear loose clothing, especially around the waist. Constrictive clothing might make your heartburn worse.
  • Consider sleeping with your upper body elevated if nighttime heartburn is a problem. You can do this by elevating the head of the bed with blocks or by using a special wedge pillow. Note – It is not a good idea to prop yourself up with extra pillows to get this elevation. Your body may bend in such a way as a result, which might put more pressure on your stomach and make your heartburn sensations worse.
  • If you smoke, avoid cigarettes or other types of nicotine while you are experiencing heartburn.
  • If you have any specific food triggers, like soda, coffee, alcohol, citrus or tomato-based foods avoid them while you have heartburn.
  • Avoid eating any additional food until your heartburn has passed, especially citrus, acidic or spicy foods.
  • Avoid lying down within 2 hours of eating. Instead, go for a stroll to encourage digestion.

If lifestyle changes or OTC medication do not help your heartburn or if you experience heartburn frequently, talk to your doctor. They can assist in determining the root reasons for your heartburn and the best course of action.


Heartburn causes a burning pain in your chest. Many people can manage the unease themselves at home, however, if it does not go away or is frequent, it can be an indicator of a more serious condition. It is always advisable to seek medical help from an experienced gastroenterologist. Timely care and help can ensure an appropriate diagnosis and treatment of your condition. 

At the CK Birla Hospital, we ensure patients get holistic medical support which includes treatment in a compassionate environment. This patient-centric approach not only helps patients heal better but also ensures they are aware of the preventive measures as well. In case you need to consult a gastroenterologist, reach out to us, or book a direct appointment with Dr. Mayank Madan at the CK Birla Hospital. (Booking Link). 


How Do You Get Rid of Heartburn?

Heartburn can mostly be treated with OTC (over-the-counter) medications. If you still get heartburn, consult your doctor to determine the underlying causes and the best course of action.  

When Should You Consult a Doctor for Heartburn?

Seek help right away if you have severe chest pressure or pain, especially when combined with pain in the jaw or arm or difficulty breathing. Make an appointment with your healthcare provider if your heartburn occurs more than twice a week. Symptoms persist despite the use of nonprescription medications.

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